Immune System Boosters ... Nah, Just Kidding
(April 28, 2020)
You remember a couple of weeks ago, when I insisted that there are no immune system boosters? Well, I haven’t changed my mind about that. Not one little bit.
But! Here is the thing. There are a lot of common behaviors that are immune system SQUASHERS. Getting rid of one or more of them, and seeing an improvement in health from doing so, COULD be considered to be an immune system booster. And at least a couple of those behaviors aren’t at all hard to change (or so they look to me, anyway). So I thought instead of simply scolding, or exhorting you all vaguely to ‘live a healthy lifestyle’, I’d point out a few of them.
1) Quit smoking. Ok, that's a cheap and easy shot. Maybe I shouldn’t even mention it, since only about 14% of Americans still smoke. But even smoking a little bit (just on weekends, or a couple of cigarettes a day, like a lot of those people do) negatively affects the immune system. (If you must -- the T cells, B lymphocytes, NK cells and macrophages, among others.) It increases your chances of a respiratory infection in particular, and we especially don't want that right now, amiright? So this is a REALLY good time to quit, for anyone who hasn’t already.
I don’t have specifics for vaping but you know that it has to fall into this category as well. And smoking cigarettes can kill you but at least you look cool while you’re doing it, whereas vaping just makes you look like you’re so stoned you’ve mistaken a flash drive for a doobie, so what's the point.
2) Many medications are immunosuppressive. Some are meant to be immunosuppressive, of course (like the ones prescribed for transplant patients, or those with autoimmune disorders). But oral steroids, if taken for more than a few days, are immunosuppressive (CD4+T-lymphocytes and cytokines are affected). Your doctor might be tempted to prescribe those to you these days if you call them with an ouchie, just to keep you from coming in for an office visit, so beware.
3) A really bad diet. A good part of immune system dysfunction due to diet is from nutrient deficiencies, of which the majority of Americans have at least one. That is why I’m a fan of multivitamins -- they are cheap nutritional insurance. Plus, too much sugar (and your basic American diet is about 25% sugar) totally kicks the butts of your neutrophils in particular.
4) Insufficient sleep. Sleep directly increases the quantity of some of the cells in the immune system (cytokines, antibodies, B-lymphocytes). So if you have broken sleep or can’t drag yourself away from the screen until late at night, at least make sure that you get sufficient hours. Plus, insufficient sleep produces stress, which brings us to, uh, stress.
5) Stress. Decreasing stress is no small feat these days. But it is worth taking advantage of whatever means are available to you to do so because stress causes cortisol release and cortisol is a direct suppressor of the immune system. It’s SUPPOSED to work that way, and it does, all too well. So whatever you can do to lessen the feelings of stress, including a daily walk, at least try it. Oh, yeah,
6) Exercise. Directly increases antibody and white blood cell levels in general. And I'm not even going to start to list the other great things exercise does. I'll just say that even ten minutes a day is a LOT better than none at all and anyone can find ten minutes to exercise.
7) Wash your hands like, er, Lady Macbeth. It was only a couple of years ago that the jury was still out on whether the flu virus was mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets, or if touch was the culprit. That particular jury may not have returned yet, although the droplet thing is getting all the attention these days.
But boring old basic handwashing is magical. I kid you not. I worked in an office for many years where I had to walk past a sink to get to the next treatment room, and I personally did not get one cold or flu during those years. I’ll bet I never passed one on, either. So even though being admonished to wash your hands reminds you unfavorably of older female authority figures, do it anyway.
6) Laughing. It reduces stress and boosts serum IgA and NK cells. No kidding! Way cool. Now, there is SOMETHING out there that makes you laugh, I know there is. Even these days. So go for it. Even if it’s I Love Lucy, or the Three Stooges. Don’t be embarrassed. And if it doesn’t increase your immunity, well, so what. You could probably use a laugh once in a while anyway.
Ok, I doubt that any of this was entirely new to you. But it’s worth being reminded of. Not just in the first flush of panic, or in the boredom of the long weeks. But also when that glorious moment finally comes when we all rush out to our ballroom dancing class, or comedy club, or horror movie group again. It will probably be a while before this stuff stops meriting the extra attention it's getting. So take it easy and take care of yourself, and I’ll see you on the other side.
--dr. diane holmes
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